It is a stunning little car that’s aimed at enthusiasts first and foremost...
Base price: $85,900.
Powertrain and performance: 3.0-litre turbo-petrol straight six, 235kW/450Nm, 8-speed automatic, rear-drive, Combined economy 7.5 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.9 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4324mm long, 1421mm high, luggage capacity 360/1200 litres, fuel tank 52 litres, 18-inch wheels on 225/40 front and 245/35 rear tyres.
We like: Stunning performance, virtuoso handling, feels really special.
We don’t like: Trying to think of things we don’t like about this car. It’s expensive, but still good value given its abilities.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
There’s a new BMW brand in town and it’s called M Performance. Now, we’ll understand if you’re confused, because BMW already offers M Sport option packages, which are essentially a bit of dressing-up and perhaps some suspension and nice seats. Then there’s plain M (as in M3 and M5), which indicates a car developed by the BMW Motorsport division and a very serious road/track machine.
M Performance is in between the two: not all-show like the former, but not as uncompromising and raw as the latter. M Performance cars have powertrains, steering, suspension and brakes enhanced by BMW’s Motorsport division, but are still very much everyday cars.
We’ve already seen two M Performance crossover models: the X5 M50d and X6 M50d, both with triple-turbo-diesel engines.
The new M135i tested here takes a different tack: it’s a dramatically enhanced version of the 1-series small hatchback and the first M Performance model to be powered by a petrol engine. A 3.0-litre turbo-six, mind, which is a very large motor for a very small car. Promising.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
For want of a more technical term, the M135i is awesome. It’s not just that the performance is staggering, although 0-100km/h in under five seconds is seriously fast for any car. It’s also the linear way in which the engine delivers its power. And there’s a lot to deliver.
The M135i’s unique selling proposition in the small-car segment is rear-drive, which will be a big draw for the enthusiast driver. The steering is sharp, front-end grip astonishing and the whole package is beautifully balanced as you tackle tight corners.
Hot hatches are very closely associated with a front-drive layout (because most small cars are built that way), but a rear-driver like this little BMW adds a whole new dimension to the genre. You cannot help but enjoy it, and despite the scary level of performance on tap it’s quite docile: the eight-speed automatic gearbox modulates the power nicely and the suspension, while well-controlled, is also compliant enough to guide you safely through bumpy corners at speed.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
If you’re familiar with the standard 1-series, there’s not a lot to add here. The work on the M135i has been focused on what’s under the skin, rather than garnishing the car with luxury extras.
Having said that, it’s still well-equipped – as it should be at $86k. As befits the M Performance ethos, this is no stripped-out racer: comfort and convenience features such as leather upholstery, cruise control with braking function and automatic bi-xenon headlights are all standard.
Being rear-drive, it stands to reason that the 1-series is not as roomy as your typical front-drive car. However, unlike the previous-generation car, which was tragically tight for rear-seat occupants, the latest 1-series is capable of carrying four adults in relative (if not long-haul) comfort.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Not if your primary concern is showing off to the neighbours. Subtlety is the name of the game with proper German performance cars these days: despite its highly specialised status, to look at the M135i could be any 1-series with an M Sport body kit attached. You’d have to be a real M Performance train-spotter to to know it straight away, by its grey side mirror caps.
As far as we’re concerned, that just makes the M135i all the more sweet. It is a stunning little car that’s aimed at enthusiasts first and foremost: staggeringly quick, superbly well-balanced and seriously desirable.
Should you buy one? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Keyless entry/start: Yes/yes
Leather upholstery: Yes
Parking radar: Rear
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: YesTrip computer